By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) Think of your earliest baseball-related memory. I’ll give you a minute.
I’m willing to bet that whether it was attending your first big league game, getting that first glove to play catch in the yard with or getting your first hit in tee-ball, there was at least a hint if not all out explosion of fun in that experience.
We are told almost from jump street that baseball is fun, and not in a 22 Jump Street way that advertises its funness but leaves you feeling used and bitter and refund-worthy. Those police are not fun. And neither are the cops that lately are so desperate to keep baseball the equivalent of a Jeff Dunham show.
So what the heck happened? How did we start living in a fun police state? This paleoconservative approach to baseball I see of late has become such a vocal force. And it really stinks.
Tomas Rios addressed this last August as the movement to have more hall monitors in the game was beginning to reach full whine:
Baseball’s obsession with notions of “class” and “respect” and “tradition” and “endless other vagaries no one cares about” are largely to blame for this static state of affairs. Follow a team for a season and you’ll become intimately familiar not only with the RULES, but the frequent Victorian fainting couch trips that follow transgressions against the RULES. Grown adults flopping about dramatically, back of palm on forehead, reaching for yet another opium calmative — all because someone has dared sully the gentleman’s game.
The most recent example is St. Louis manager Mike Matheny, who took Milwaukee Brewer Jonathan Lucroy’s creative approach to garnering All-Star votes and military barber shopped the hell out of it.
“We’ve gone through this the last few years,” vice principal Matheny said. “Especially last year with the Cardinal Way stuff getting blown way out of proportion. I think it can put a bad taste in a lot of peoples’ mouth. But in defense of the recognition that our guys have had — whether it’s having a number of guys on the All-Star team — that stuff isn’t just handed out. These guys have worked hard for that. They have deserved it, and they have earned it, and I don’t think that’s anything for us to apologize for.”
Know who gets a bad taste in their mouth from Lucroy’s video? Cardinal fans. Know why? Because that Cardinal Way stuff is not blown out of proportion — it’s very real, and it’s a creepy religious thing with a successful team’s twisted fanbase that calls itself the Best Fans in Baseball.
While the Cardinal Way was on full buzz-kill against the Los Angeles Dodgers in last year’s playoffs because baseball fun is supposed to be relegated to girding your loins and shaking hands in the dugout and hoping Glenn Close shows up to see you hit a dinger (but you can’t see her because you’re rounding the bases respectfully with your head down), St. Louisans certainly aren’t the only narcs in the game or people whose sense of humor is defined by lame memes.
Not a week goes by, almost not a game even, in which I don’t hear the otherwise enjoyable and playful Ed Farmer and Darrin Jackson tandem on White Sox radio broadcasts go out of their way to point out some approach to the game that irks them. It was forever Jose Valverde. It was recently a fascination with the open buttons of Hanley Ramirez’s jersey.
Fun police root against a no-hitter in a game they have no side in. And they’re usually the same druids who think mentioning a no-hitter affects a no-hitter.
Machado-gate was stupid and a product of the thin dumb line of the game’s cops. And then there’s Brian McCann, champion of the hallowed rules unwritten. He’s not cool, and unwritten rules are incredibly illogical and fun like a restaurant placemat. They tend to fall under that subjective-yet-rigid umbrella of the oft-tossed around word “class.”
The high priests tell us we need to have it, whatever “it” is, if we are to worship in the Church of Baseball. Their latter day saint is Derek Jeter, who I am really glad is retiring. I have no problem with Jeter the man or player himself, but that he ‘s an icon of this old guard of baseball regression and going away is great for open-minded Puigites taking the game forward.
And progression isn’t fearing change and denying game and player evolution. It isn’t justifying one’s laziness with math by trying to discredit new numbers as nerdery hellbent on taking away an antiquated idea of fun.
Notice that none of the anti-fun, pro-class stuff has anything to do with anything that actually affects the play of game. Except what is sometimes the response to the fun —using a baseball as a weapon to inflict actual physical pain and potential injury on a hitter. Then a player’s health comes into play. Because for the classy, sadism is fun.
Then sometimes that extra baserunner scores on a Jonathan Lucroy grand slam late in the game to put his team up by three. Gee, karma is fun.
You can follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe.